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VIEWPOINT: Your financial future: less for you, more for the city

by Ludd?Trozpek

I have attended the 10 or so meetings of Claremont's Future Financial Opportunities Committee. This committee was rammed through council by staff on the consent agenda last July, with no prior commission or council consideration and, in fact, no discussion by anyone—public or councilmembers—at the meeting where it was approved.

While the members were appointed by then-mayor Opanyi Nasiali, the residents who chose to apply seemed to have a particular interest in expanding the revenue side of the city balance sheet, through taxes if necessary, or through raiding the Claremont Colleges cookie jar if possible. Several members of the committee were notably enthusiastic about that latter possibility.

There was no committee charter to look at the expense side for reductions, and even the one meeting in December where service reductions were to be discussed—that item quietly fell off the agenda in November. At the most recent committee meeting on Monday night, some of the members seemed surprised there wasn't a parallel committee examining possible expense reduction opportunities. But there wasn’t.

Now, as the final report is being prepared by staff for presentation at an April council meeting, it appears the number-one recommendation will be for a city sales tax of up to three-quarters of a percent on top of the current 9.5 percent.

The citizen committee members, even those who should know better, were persuaded by the avaricious argument that if Claremont did not impose that tax, LA County would, up to the current statewide cap of 10.25 percent.

So the thinking was that Claremont ought to grab it before the county could do so. The committee ignored the information that the state legislature was considering a probable increase in the cap to 11 percent. In this case both the city and county could take care of themselves and the taxpayers take the hindmost.

It will be interesting to see how Claremont voters respond to two back-to-back tax elections in the near future: a sales tax election on the one hand and yet another slated police station financing measure on the other. Talk about tax exhaustion.

The committee appears ready also to recommend to council regulation and taxing of short-term rentals such as Airbnb, and also a tricky sales tax capture scheme forming a local “purchasing corporation” in Claremont and cajoling or requiring large purchasers such as developers and the Colleges to acquire their taxable goods there, thus making Claremont the point of sale for tax purposes. Neither of these is likely to produce much revenue—no estimates are given in the draft report—but will certainly produce a tangle of regulations, requirements, policies and ordinances.

Perhaps the most fanciful proposal is the recommendation for a per-capita tax on student enrollment at the Colleges. The amount proposed in the draft recommendation is $160 per student, for a total of $800,000 annually. Even the staff notes that this is “unenforceable,” relying, one supposes, on the Colleges and its students to just ship the money over unbidden.

And for those citizens who thought the parking meter plan was dead, the committee “highly recognizes a paid parking system as a viable business opportunity that needs to be revisited,” according to the draft recommendation.

There were only two members of the public at Monday’s meeting, and even the committee itself was barely able to make a quorum, but the work of staff in putting its own imprint on this committee’s output is highly consequential.

The recommendations, when finalized next week, are scheduled to be considered by city council on April 9.